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- 2008 - September - 22nd -

Introduction to the JBA Admiralty and Maritime Law Section

On behalf of the Jacksonville Bar Association, I am pleased to announce the formation of the Admiralty and Maritime Law Section. This section has been created to provide a forum for local practitioners to exchange ideas, expand their knowledge, and stay abreast of current developments in the field of admiralty and maritime law.

More often than not, many attorneys seem to approach the subject of admiralty and maritime law like a foreign language — by either avoiding it altogether, or stumbling through published materials in a frustrated state in hopes of finding a satisfactory answer. Therefore, I suppose a layman’s description of the subject matter is in order.

Admiralty and maritime law is a specialized legal practice which encompasses many diverse aspects of marine commerce, employment, recreation, insurance, transportation, and shipping arising out of “traditional maritime activity” occurring on “navigable waters and the high seas.” This field of law has its own set of complex jurisdictional and procedural rules which apply to transactions and litigation disputes involving maritime personal injury and death actions, product liability claims, collision, allision & property damage suits, recreational boating and watercraft accidents, cruise ship passenger laws, marine insurance contracts, maritime employment agreements, environmental regulations, maritime liens, ship mortgages and even vessel arrests.

While the terminology is certainly unique, the practice of maritime law frequently spills over into areas of general insurance, commercial and tort law, which affects everyday transactions and disputes.

Jacksonville’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, St. Johns River and Intracoastal Waterway makes this area a prime location for an expanding admiralty and maritime law practice. Companies doing business at Jacksonville’s Port Authority employ more than 7,000 workers and support another 43,000 local jobs. In the past few years, local authorities have taken aggressive steps to revolutionize the Port’s presence in the international shipping arena by undertaking an extensive St. Johns River harbor deepening project and entering into contracts with Asian shipping companies that will make local port calls at the newly designed Dames Point terminal.

Additionally, with the expansion of Jacksonville’s shipping operations, port tenants are signing longer leases, terminal facilities are advancing, and maritime corporations are increasingly taking advantage of the Port Authority’s multiple cargo terminals for the intermodal transport of containers, automobiles, bulk and refrigerated cargoes, as well as cruise passenger service and local ferry service. Such expansion likely means that a greater number of local attorneys will be called upon in the future to facilitate maritime transactions and resolve litigation disputes.

Given the increased activity in the local maritime industry (not to mention the proliferation of weekend boaters, fishermen and watersports enthusiasts), the time seems ripe for local admiralty law practitioners to finally have a forum in the JBA. The Admiralty and Maritime Law Section’s first meeting will be held Oct. 10 at noon at the office of Murphy & Anderson, Bank of America Tower, 50 N. Laura St., Suite 1675, for all registered and potential new members.

The section also plans to hold quarterly meetings throughout the year, organize a half-day educational seminar addressing recent developments in the field in conjunction with representatives from the Southeastern Admiralty Law Institute and Maritime Law Association and submit a newsworthy article for the Jacksonville Bar Bulletin in the spring. Our hope is that in addition to giving members an opportunity to become familiar with important new decisions, legislation and conventions, the section will be able to provide continuing legal education credit in connection with its seminar and one or more section meetings.

Given the changing landscape in the field this past year with respect to punitive damages standards, causation, criminal sanctions for pollution activities, reverse-Erie interpretations, and the doctrine of maintenance and cure, the section hopes to explore these topics to gain a better understanding of the likely impact of anticipated federal court decisions on 11th Circuit precedent.

We invite anyone interested in joining our section to attend our first meeting on Oct. 10 and e-mail the JBA’s administrator, Shotsie Main, for further information. We look forward to expanding our membership in the section’s inaugural year and hope to foster a greater presence for local admiralty and maritime law practitioners in the Jacksonville Bar Association.

J. Rice Ferrelle, Jr. is an attorney at Murphy & Anderson practicing in the areas of Admiralty and Maritime Law, Business Litigation, Products Liability and Personal Injury, Employment, Securities and Intellectual Property Litigation.

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